The war of words may not be as overt as it once was, but there are still competing schools of thought as to what constitutes the "real" cloud: public or private infrastructure.
It may prove to be a distinction without a difference, however, considering neither approach is mutually exclusive, and in fact they may prove to be part and parcel of the same overall infrastructure if predictions for hybrid systems prove correct.
In many ways, the private cloud has had a tougher time proving itself to skeptical data architects. Conventional thinking held that it would be both more expensive and less scalable than a public system. Lately, however, those views are losing support.
For one, private clouds are proving to be less expensive than public ones in certain circumstances. Research firm Osterman recently released a report indicating that Microsoft applications like Exchange, SharePoint and Lync can be delivered for less on private infrastructure than on a public cloud or even traditional systems. The study featured a simulation of a 5,000-user environment over a three-year period, which suggests that as the data environment scales up, so does the cost of public services.
This is probably the reason why private cloud activity is expected to gain considerably in the coming year. Gartner estimates that deployments will increase 10-fold by the end of the year, although surprisingly it is not cost that is driving this activity, but increased speed and flexibility. The market is heating up so fast, in fact, that lead analyst Tom Bittman says we should have a pretty good idea who the winning vendors will be by the end of the year.
Of course, the notion of what constitutes a private cloud is not so cut-and-dried as it would seem. Traditionally, private clouds are deployed on wholly owned infrastructure while public ones leave the hardware, management and other tasks to a third-party provider. Some providers, however, are starting to blur the lines. Equinex, for example, allows clients to install their own servers at its Secaucus, N.J., and Chicago, Ill., facilities, where they can manage them as private infrastructure using Tier3's Enterprise Cloud Platform. Connectivity is provided by private virtual networking, while standard firewalls and other security measures ensure system isolation.
The cost of building a private cloud from scratch can also be kept to a minimum through many of the advances taking place in physical infrastructure these days. Morphlabs' mCloud Data Center Unit (DCU)is an all solid-state platform built around the Dell PowerEdge portfolio that combines computer, networking and storage in a small-footprint module. The company says it can match Amazon and Rackspace pricing while providing a highly scalable, high-I/O environment.
The decision between this or that architecture should never be about chasing the latest trends or even tapping into the newest technology. Rather, the focus should be on providing the most vibrant data environment at the lowest cost. For many organizations, that will surely lead them to the public cloud. Larger groups, however, may find the sweet spot in private.